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Bosses Prepare To Honor Secretaries

April 21, 1998

On the eve of Secretaries’ Day, Barry Blystone is worried. Lowering his voice, he confesses that he still can’t figure out what to do for his office assistant.

``What do you do? Is it insulting or is it courtesy to get something?″ asked Blystone, the training director at Siemens Power Transmission and Distribution plant in Wendell, N.C. ``It’s a dilemma.″

Secretaries _ the girl Fridays of yesteryear _ are becoming a job description of the past. Armed with computers and needed more than ever in downsized workplaces, they don’t pour much coffee.

And that makes the 46-year-old Secretaries’ Day something of an office minefield for bosses _ who aren’t sure what to do_ and for assistants _ who aren’t sure they even want to be called secretaries anymore.

``Many of our members are trying to be thought of as valuable team members, and it’s awkward to be singled out this way,″ said Rick Stroud, spokesman for the 40,000-member Professional Secretaries International.

The Kansas City, Mo.-based group, which created the day in 1952 partly as a recruiting tool during a then-shortage of secretaries, wrestles with whether the event is an outdated idea, said Stroud.

``Maybe it’s time to change the name,″ he said, adding that the association will vote this summer on whether to change its name to the International Association of Administrative Professionals.

Certainly, secretaries’ everyday work has changed.

Only 7 percent get coffee for the boss, while 90 percent said they did so in the past, according to a December telephone survey of 500 assistants by Avery Dennison office products.

Now called everything from office professionals to executive coordinators, secretaries assume managerial tasks, train staff, research presentations and serve on committees.

``I used to be tied to a desk, but now I have a lot more flexibility and opportunity and challenges,″ said Natalie Bee, an executive secretary at the McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence, S.C.

In the eight years that she has worked there, the Medical Center has doubled in size, increasing her job responsibilities. Along with her secretarial tasks, Miss Bee maintains all files on the center’s 3,800 employees and trains new secretaries.

``I’d like for my title to be `Executive Assistant’, because that’s what I consider myself to be,″ she said.

That’s not to say that Miss Bee wants to shelve the day. Proud of her profession, she organizes an educational program each year at the Center on Secretaries’ Day.

At many workplaces, the day centers around the anxious choice of a gift or an invitation to lunch. As a result, bosses spend a lot of time stewing about the day.

Denise Coit, a manager at the Siemens plant in Wendell, says she’s so worried about offending her unit’s three assistants that she carefully explains that she doesn’t consider them secretaries but would like to give them flowers and lunch.

Gordon Nelson, a partner of Peterson Allred Nelson accountants in Logan, Utah, dreads the day.

``You have to make the decision of who gets that recognition, and what do you do for them,″ said Nelson, whose firm is giving gift baskets of toiletries _ chosen by his wife _ to its assistants, along with a lunch.

The recognition suits firm secretary Kathleen McCurdy, who says she doesn’t even mind being called a secretary _ ``as long as people realize what it means.″

``There’s a lot more to it than people think,″ she said.

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